Shannon and Gus Forever part 2
It had been a long sweat soaked summer for Gus. Rising before the sun each morning to try and get some relief from the dry scratchy heat, he would work hard to pick as much fruit as possible before the first rays would burst through the leafy branches finding his skin, ready to deepen his tan and make him thirsty.
He wasn’t fazed by much, the spiders wrapping their spindly little legs around the brim of his hat or the wasps trying to steal the nectar from the flowering fruit trees. He’d been doing this every summer since he was sixteen. At first it was just the idea of getting away from his parents and spreading his wings that led him to fruit picking. Then it was the lifestyle that came with it, living a minimalist existence, a bed in a tent in the middle of a field surrounded by pickers from all over the world.
Gus felt at home with people that allowed him to just be. They had a strange motley gypsy community where each night they would eat together and drink together and each morning they would rise before the sun lifting their voices up in song and laughter as they worked.
As he grew older, Gus began to notice things that would have slipped by him before. Like the Yugoslavian couple who would earn twenty or thirty thousand a season and would gamble it all away by the time the season was over resulting in an alcohol fuelled roaring domestic or the Swedish backpackers who hyperextended the idea of unity by sharing sexual partners, resulting in shared infection and an implosion of any pre-existing relationships. Oblivious to these things as a youngster, Gus now breathed in deep and let out a sigh of perhaps defeat or recognition that he was no longer as idealistic as he once was.
Having spent years here, smoking weed with Fijians and drinking cherry vodka until he could no longer see, Gus felt, for the first time that perhaps there was more to life than this. Perhaps this nomadic existence had taken its toll on him in more ways than he realized. It had definitely been the source of conflict with his parents who couldn’t understand how anyone could possibly want a lifestyle different to theirs, home ownership, same job for twenty years and so on.
Zoe understood, or at least accepted Gus for the person he was, placing no expectation on him that he should somehow have a five-year plan in place with a mortgage as the goal. Zoe was a good older sister, whenever Gus blew back into town she had a bed ready for him and they would sit in her cozy kitchen, drinking cherry wine as they caught up on the happenings of their lives.
It wasn’t as though Gus was some hippy stereotype; he didn’t dwell in the hills of Nimbin crawling out only when the pension came in to refuel on herbal supplies.
No, Gus had a double degree; he’d studied hard and was awarded with a Bachelor of Science in Applied Geology and Environmental Biology. He used it here and there, in between picking seasons and overseas travel, but maybe it was time to settle somewhere.
So it was decided, he would leave the life of fruit picking behind, he was feeling old and tired and thought it was time to listen to his body and stay still for a while. Zoe was expecting him and had offered him a room for as long as he needed.
“So when do you think you’ll catch up with mum and dad?”
Zoe placed a large glass of iced tea laced with mint leaves on the table in front of Gus and half smirked while she awaited his response. Gus let out a sigh and holding the cold glass against his temple for dramatic effect, gave Zoe a knowing look.
“You know no matter how much you want it Zoe you can’t force mum and dad to accept me, I disappoint them and they make it known, its been this way for as long as I can remember now.”
Raising her eyebrows Zoe took a long sip of her tea, then quietly spoke,
“I know it’s been hard but maybe mum and dad are starting to change”
Determined not to be put off by the frown dictating Gus’s brow she went on.
“Apparently they are a lot more relaxed these days, joining clubs and doing things like weekend wine tours, you never know, maybe they are so chilled they will share a spliff with you before dinner.”
Tired of discussing his parents Gus responds with weary laughter. They sit in silence for a while as the evening descends upon them, the sounds of plates clattering on to tables and the scents of meat barbequing wafting past the little fenced house. Knowing the answer Gus rests his head on the back of the chair and looks over at his beautiful sister,
“Zoe, you’ve invited them for dinner tonight, haven’t you?” Turning her head toward her little sweet brother Zoe smiles a half apologetic semi victorious smile.
Martha and Dennis Stratham navigated the city traffic with ease, they no longer lived in town, making the retirement shift to a sleepy seaside village had suited them and they were unusually relaxed, even jovial as they made their way to their daughter Zoe’s house for dinner.
It had been a while since they’d seen either of their children Dennis thought, even longer since he’d seen his son Gus and who knew when he would see him next, with all the travelling Gus did, not much of it included parental visits.
This bothered Dennis, more so than he let on, he knew he’d been harder on Gus than Zoe but that was expected from a father son relationship, well at least what he’d experienced with his own dad. Still there was this constant thought that usually emerged from the shadows of his mind in the early hours of the morning or while sitting by the bay watching the small waves roll in, that maybe he could have done it better, somehow been more encouraging or not as hard on Gus.
Martha always assumed things would one day just work themselves out, she was sunny and hopeful but Dennis could feel the distance between him and Gus, that space in between filled with criticisms and judgment that weighed so heavy upon his poor son’s shoulders he could barely stand in the presence of his father.
Dennis had come to realize that everyone’s lives looked so different, and that was okay.
Perhaps he should go down to the fruit orchard commune and find his son and ask for forgiveness, that being against his life choices was a hereditary reaction not his heart, that the truth of his heart was that he loved his son, that he admired his ability to live so freely, drifting as if carried by the wind. After years of corporate structure and all the successes what was it all worth if his son no longer wanted to know him, what was it worth if perhaps he’d never tried to know his own son.
“Dennis darling, we’re here”
Lost in his thoughts Dennis looked weary. Martha had been worried about him for a while, she knew he was conflicted about Gus but she didn’t know what to say. She’d thought he’d always been too hard on their son but then Dennis told her she was too soft.
There was no manual when it came to marriage and babies, they had done the best they could, Lord knows their parents weren’t much help, constantly criticizing their parenting choices, nothing being good enough. Martha hated seeing how much this weighed heavily on her husband, perhaps she should suggest he go and see Gus, try to make amends. Of course Dennis always assumed she didn’t see things for what they were, that she was too idealistic or off with the fairies to know what was what, but maybe she could find a way to show him she knew more than she let on.
Holding the bunch of flowers she had picked for Zoe, Martha got out of the car, straightened her shoulders and waited for Dennis to walk her up the path to their daughter’s house.
Arm in arm they enjoyed the light summer breeze as the sunset washed over the little street, she loved the feel of her husbands arm against hers, strong and warm, it wasn’t idealistic to believe things would work out, it was hopeful.
Sitting on the little steps Gus was wondering just how this surprising night would pan out. Looking up he saw his parents walking toward the cottage arm in arm and he caught himself smiling. Perhaps his old man had changed, maybe, just maybe there was something to this idea of long-term love and marriage that softened a man or maybe he just couldn’t stop thinking about the girl with the wild blue eyes that had just swept across his path like a hurricane.
With a newfound courage Gus stood to greet his folks as they came through the little gate.
Dennis stopped in his tracks. That couldn’t be Gus could it? Surely Zoe wouldn’t have gone and done such a silly thing.
“Dennis, what’s wrong?” Martha’s voice snapped him out of it,
“Its Gus” Martha followed his gaze and saw her son, her gorgeous timid son.
“Well Dennis, lets go say hello then”
“Gus, how are you darling?” Martha reached out and embraced her son, it felt wonderful holding him again, he was thinner than usual but that didn’t matter, she breathed in that familiar scent of sandalwood and let go so Dennis could move in.
The two men stood there, looking at each other. Dennis spoke first,
“Nice to see you son, unexpected but nice” Gus stretched out his hand and shook his fathers hand firmly.
“You too dad, its been a while” Dennis felt the weight of history closing in on him, looking down he caught sight of a ladies makeup pot in Gus’s hand, “Wearing makeup now I see”
Seeing his sons smile fall to the ground Dennis wished he could grab those words and pull them back in before they stuck to the walls of history.
Gus wasn’t surprised, it took all of thirty seconds for his father to bust out a condescending comment. Maybe he could just laugh it off though, maybe it wasn’t meant that way, maybe his father was trying to be funny or just didn’t know what to say. If he laughed maybe dad would laugh too and maybe then there would be a glimmer of hope in this relationship, that it could be something more than harsh words and awkward silences.
Yes, Gus thought, maybe he could find the courage to share some piece of his life that they might understand, he could tell his parents about the girl who left her blush behind and maybe then he would have the courage to chase the wind and find her.